After making history as the first out trans person to serve in a state legislature in the U.S., Virginia Del. Danica Roem has now done the unthinkable for a politician: She’s written a memoir, one that isn't boring.
That’s what happens when a lawmaker starts her career by not trying to hide things from her past or by trying to present a false image of herself to the public. If you’re the former front woman of a thrash metal band famous for partying and songs like “Drunk on Arrival,” either you don’t run for office or you turn it into a positive, an opportunity for your constituents to get to know the real you.
Authenticity can be one of the hardest things to find in politics. It’s something Danica Roem has an overabundance of, and that authenticity is on full display in her new memoir, Burn the Page (out now), an engrossing collection of the intimate, hilarious, sometimes beer-soaked moments that led to her history-making political career.
“Some people try to make it hurt by being like ‘Danica wants to be a celebrity,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, Danica also passed 32 bills into law, including 10 to feed hungry kids,’” Roem tells The Advocate’s LGBTQ&A podcast. “I’m accessible to my constituents. I show up. You’ll see me at every high school graduation next month. I recognize I’m a local legislator with a national profile. So you know what I do with the national profile? I highlight our local issues like fixing Route 28.”
As Roem moves further into the public eye, one thing has remained consistent: the obsession with her looks. Almost all trans people are familiar with a version of this in their lives. In Burn the Page, Roem writes this:
“Trans women who put themselves in the public sphere are immediately judged on this criteria, regardless of age: Are. You. Fuckable? It’s wrong, it shouldn’t be like that, and yet I cannot even begin to underscore the reality of this.”
It’s relentless. She’s forced to confront it every day. Having now won three consecutive elections since 2017 (and having just announced her new candidacy for the Virginia State Senate), the media outlets in Virginia seem to be slowly becoming less focused Roem’s gender.
“Transgender candidate” was attached to the headline of almost every article written about her (including in this magazine). Seared into her memory is a headline from the website of WUSA, a CBS television station that covers Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. “And it wasn’t like it was a negative story or anything. [The headline] was just like, ‘Transgender candidate just wants to get rid of traffic.’ And I was just like, What the hell does my gender have to do with we wanting to get rid of traffic? What the epic hell?!”
A record number of anti-trans bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the U.S. this year. A small number were proposed in Virginia but died in committee, far from the governor’s desk.
“What was also interesting was one of the Republican delegates who had a bathroom bill, he ended up talking to me because it was part of a much larger bill, and after we had a very long chat together, he ended up striking that part of the bill and then he just ended up pulling his bill altogether,” Roem shares. “I’ve got good relationships with people across the aisle where I try to be respectful even if they don’t know the issues or anything. But you have to delineate between someone who’s willing to work in good faith and someone who’s in it for the show and who just genuinely don’t care what the consequences are…and those people we just need to either unseat them or we need to make sure they’re in the minority so their bills die.”
Even after five years in the Virginia House of Delegates, Roem still deals with being misgendered by those she works with in the state legislature. “I had a colleague on the last day of the general assembly this year misgender me on the House floor in a private conversation. The colleague who said, ‘Sir, I mean, ma’am,’ and I was just like, ‘Come on, we’ve known each other for how many years now? Come on.’ And then, an hour later, I’m engaged in a debate on the House floor with the court’s justice committee chairman and he says, ‘Well, I would tell the gentleman.’ And I stopped the proceeding.”
These events aren’t common — Roem says the former speaker of the House, a Republican, never got her pronouns wrong — but they do happen. It’s an unfortunate part of the job when you’re the first, but with the publication of Burn the Page, Roem is helping to inspire others, to ensure that she is not the last.
Click here to listen to the full podcast interview with Del. Danica Roem.
LGBTQ&A is The Advocate's weekly interview podcast hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Past guests include Pete Buttigieg, Laverne Cox, Brandi Carlile, Billie Jean King, Janelle Monáe, and Roxane Gay.
New episodes come out every Tuesday.